On March 8, 1984 Richard Barbieri was born. He’s unlikely to see any time in the major leagues, but plenty of others born on March 8 have. Richard picks the best of them.
So you will have to indulge me a little for this column. While on the merits Jim Rice would be on the outside looking in at my personal Hall of Fame, I can’t claim to be upset Rice was elected to the real Hall. That is because it meant that March 8, my birthday, at long last had a player there.
I’ve written before about days with notable talent (May 27 has Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell and Todd Hundley; Jan. 2 has David Cone, Edgar Martinez and Jeff Suppan) and I’ve certainly created enough “All-Something” teams; today we’ll combine them. So we’ll honor Jim Rice’s birthday, and mine, with the all-March 8 team.
Catcher: Ray Mueller: Catcher is almost always a weak spot on these kinds of teams (notwithstanding Johnny Bench on the all-lawn furniture team) because catchers are generally a weak spot. Mueller isn’t going to make anyone forget Bench, but he’s not an absolute zero either. Mueller finished his career with a 90 OPS+, but was capable of better than that. In 1944, Mueller hit .286 with a 115 OPS+ and finished seventh in MVP voting.
First base: Dick Allen: Allen also played third and some outfield, but I’m trying to create the best possible team here, so Allen ends up at first. Bill James called Allen “the second most controversial player in baseball history.” While Barry Bonds and his BALCO buddies have cost him a few spots, the sentiment holds true. That being said, Allen could hit. His career OPS+ is 156—higher than Manny Ramirez or Hank Aaron—and he probably should have been the first March 8 Hall of Famer.
Second base: Ryan Freel: So this is kind of a stretch, but the team needs a second baseman. (Otherwise, as Casey Stengel might have said, you get a lot of singles to right field.) At his best, Freel’s versatility and competent hitting made him an asset, although he was generally stretched as a starter. Once named as a member of our own Jeff Sackman’s “All-Grit” team, Freel’s solid on-base skills will likely slot him into the leadoff spot.
Shortstop: Ollie O’Mara: He’s a shortstop, which is what we’re looking for here. Other than that, there is sadly not much to recommend O’Mara. He was a career .231 hitter, didn’t walk much and had virtually no power. He was at least an adroit bunter—twice ranking in the top 10 in sacrifices. The team needs a shortstop and he’s the best option.
Third base: Harry Lord: As you might have gathered, outside of Allen, the infield is not the strength of this team. Lord—also a member of the all-Deity team—completes the unholy Trinity. Lord played during the early part of the 20th century. Sometimes he hit, like in 1909 and 1911 when he posted a 121 and 124 OPS+, respectively. Sometimes he didn’t, like 1908 and 1913 when he put up a 97 and 98. He also made heaps of errors (217 in 907 games) but I am chalking that up mostly to the era in which he played.
Left field: Jim Rice: So what can one say about Jim Rice that hasn’t already been said, ad nauseum, during the conversations about Rice’s Hall of Fame candidacy and subsequent election. The 1978 AL MVP, at his best Rice was an excellent if not historically elite hitter. He was an RBI machine over his career. He had three of the top 12 RBI seasons during his career, and led the American League in RBIs over that same period. But he also hit into huge numbers of double-plays, and finished with a career 128 OPS+.
Center field: Juan Encarnacion: This might be a bit of a reach defensively, Encarnacion is a “natural” right fielder, but did play 350 games in center over an 11-year career. Encarnacion played for five teams, and generally showed good power but struggled to reach base. Indeed, Encarnacion posted an on-base percentage better than league average just twice, once in a season with only 175 plate-appearances. Encarnacion also hit the longest home run I’ve ever seen, just crushed into the left field bleachers in Yankee Stadium.
Right field: Carl Furillo: Owner of two of the great nicknames in baseball history, The Reading Rifle (he was from just outside of Reading, Pa., and had a terrific throwing arm) and Skoonj (the nickname came from the corruption of an Italian word for a large edible snail, either because Furillo was slow, or simply because as an Italian it was assumed he enjoyed the food). Nonetheless, Furillo was a terrific player. He won the 1953 NL batting title, (.344), was a two-time All-Star and received MVP votes in eight seasons.
Starting pitcher: Jim Bouton: Best known for his writing, of course, but also the owner of some solid seasons. Bouton won 39 games with a 128 ERA+ in more than 520 innings pitched during his 1963-64 prime years for the Yankees. This eventually would lead to the arm problems that made Bouton the knuckleballer/chronicler that kept him from obscurity. But he still finished with a 3.57 ERA, and so earns the starting nod.
Closer: Lance McCullers: A reliever who peaked with 16 saves in 1987, McCullers appeared in 208 games his first three full seasons in the majors. That, combined with 21 games his rookie season apparently doomed McCullers to ineffectiveness; he was never healthy and effective again. Nonetheless, in his first four seasons—all with the Padres—McCullers put up a 2.96 ERA.
So this team’s strengths are in its outfield and Allen. Having never constructed—and unless I’m forgetting something, having never even seen—another “All-Day” team, I can’t say how competitive March 8 would be against other squads. But I imagine the front-line talent would make this team very respectable. And in a world where the Netherlands can beat the Dominican Republic—twice!—that’s all it takes.